On February 6th 2013, librarians all over the world learned that Dale Askey, a librarian from McMaster University thinks that the quality of the the books published by Edwin Mellen Press leave something to be desired. And, oh, Edwin Mellen Press is suing Dale Askey and his employer for a combined 4.5 million. For giving the opinion that EMP often publishes second hand scholarship. Since then EMP has told CBC Hamilton that they have dropped the case leaving out the key piece of information that of two cases suing Mr. Askey for a combined total of 4.5 million dollars, they have only dropped the case with Mr. Askey and McMaster University for 3.5 million and not the one for Mr. Askey alone for 1 million. Yay. Because all the pressure from social media to drop the cases was about the case against McMaster. Which was so strong given that Mr. Askey wrote the blog before he was ever employed there. Word of caution: I am not a lawyer, but I would think that dropping that case is a pretty empty gesture given that that particular case didn’t really stand up. Also since McMaster undoubtably has more money than Mr. Askey personally does ( I’m going on a limb here….) I’m going to guess that he actually isn’t all that relieved to find out that his case still stands.
One phrase keeps jumping out at me about this case. That phrase is “biting the hand that feeds you”, because a small academic press suing an academic librarian seems like, well, biting the hand that feeds you. Because academic monographs are often as not bought by …libraries. Also I keep hearing about the Streisand effect, which might well be named the “Askey effect” since now EMP is mostly known as the publisher who sued Dale Askey for saying that some of their publications are second rate scholarship even though their own website that their only criterion for publication is that a work of research make a contribution to scholarship. Huh? Full disclosure: My father is a published writer (it’s true!), and a former faculty member at McMaster. (the coincidences are amazing!). But he is published by an academic press, which is to say he is not living high on the hog on the royalties that are pouring in from Amazon.com (or .ca for that matter). But over one hundred libraries across Canada and the U.S have his book, which no doubt counts for close to one hundred percent of his royalties, because scholarly monographs on the Gospel of St. Thomas are hot seller let me tell you. (But not McMaster University! What’s wrong with you? He’s a former faculty member. And a graduate. Twice!)
But of course the worst part of this case is not the effect that the case might have on the reputation of Edwin Mellen Press, though its probably safe to say that they aren’t exactly winning this public relations war. See this provocatively titled post if you don’t believe me. The worst part of this case is the chilling effect that this case will have on academic freedom, not to mention the cowardly way in which EMP is taking advantage of Canada’s slightly less robust understanding of freedom of speech. It’s interesting to note that Mr. Askey wrote this blog post in 2010 when he worked at Kansas State University but EMP only brought the case forward after Mr. Askey started working at McMaster University. Interesting. Can we say “forum shopping”? For the record I don’t think that either of the two cases are particularly strong, but having a publisher suing a librarian for being critical of the books they publish is sure to have a chilling effect on the willingness of librarians being critical of potential library material even though librarian are expected to demonstrate professional judgment on potential library materials, especially, as Mr. Askey noted in his “controversial” posting in times of decreasing budget. And this is why we need to keep pressure on Edwin Mellen Press to drop both cases. Because publishers cannot be allowed to threaten librarians with nonsense law suits just for doing their jobs.